South of the Border, with a little something for everyone: Cars N’ Anime San Diego (Otaku Month Ep.3)
We’re well into the midst of ‘Otaku Month’ here on HPT: and I hope you have been enjoying getting to learn more about one event after another.
And for this week’s featured event, we’re going south of Los Angeles. More specifically, all the way down Interstate 5, just before the Mexican border with Tijuana. Yes, this week’s event takes us to the city of San Diego.
While it is only a recent addition to the slew of otaku car events that happen regularly in Southern California, Cars N’ Anime SD has slowly been gaining traction as yet another hotspot car and anime enthusiasts need to check out. More so for those based in the San Diego region, considering most of the regular events tend to take place closer towards Los Angeles - or within the central Southern California region. And speaking from personal experience, it can be quite a journey for anyone based in San Diego to try and make it to one of the ever-popular events, that justifying the round trip for a few hours of weeb awesomeness isn't worth it.
(Pasadena to San Diego in an Infiniti Q50: just make sure you’ve budgeted enough for two fuel tanks worth if you ever decide to do a road trip. All in the same day.)
As for the name? It’s a twist on regular Cars and Coffee meets everyone is familiar with, as well as one of San Diego’s originals: ‘Cars and Elotes’.But with an otaku twist.
This San Diego-exclusive event is the brainchild of founder Jermie Sunico (@wildchild_inc), based off of a separate car meet he hosted in the area called ‘Summer Nights’. As he explains, it all started from finding a way to boost up the profile of two vendors who sold stickers at meets.
“I reached out to two local anime sticker shops that I got talking with, if they wanted an opportunity to sell some of their merchandise. Both of these vendors took up the offer and I set out to create a dedicated car meet for them in mind. I promoted the meet with flyers that transposed cars into popular anime universes as a unique way to spread the word, considering I know they are many anime fans within the car scene - especially the JDM/import crowd."
The event that was setup to promote both sticker shops ended up being far more successful compared to what Jeremie was expecting, with a strong turnout for what initially was intended to be a small pop-up. Not only that, the vendors he was supporting recommended looking into setting up a regular schedule.
A year later, after putting the idea on the backburner for a while, and as restrictions on gatherings began to loosen, Jeremie decided to go forth with bringing his idea to life: naming it ‘Cars N' Anime San Diego.’
Initially starting small, Cars N' Anime grew over the next few months, gaining more attendees and regular vendors with each run. From starting guerilla, park-n-chill style in a shopping center carpark, eventually hosting at bigger, more public venues - most recently, a go-kart facility in Chula Vista.
"Most events that are anime & car related are mainly based in Los Angeles/Orange County. I wanted to create an event exclusive for San Diego that would serve as the basis for San Diego's anime/car communities."
“At our first Cars N’Anime event in August 2020, we had 5 vendors in the parking lot we hosted at. We had more artists reach out to us to register their interest to participate in our next one.. At the following event in September, that lineup expanded to 25 vendors and had a turnout that far exceeded our expectations: to the extent that we put Cars N’ Anime within the local radar as well as being considered a full-scale event.”
“One of my aims with this event is to merge the car enthusiast and anime communities, by combining both interests in a way that allows both to appreciate one another into a shared subculture - where both can thrive."
And while another round of state-wide lockdowns forced the delay of a Christmas-themed installment, combined with the departure of some co-organizers, perseverance paid off to allow it to return this year. A collaboration with a fellow car meet host revived Cars N' Anime over this past Spring, bringing 'Cars N' Anime 4'.
Just like the previous events that have been discussed over the past weeks, the intention behind this is to bridge both car and otaku communities together, in a friendly atmosphere. “One of my aims with this event is to merge the car enthusiast and anime communities, by combining both interests in a way that allows both to appreciate one another in a shared subculture - where both can thrive." Over the few, but successful events with big turnouts they've had to their events, Jeremie's observed the crowd initially consisted of people who come as import enthusiasts who happen to also enjoy the occasional anime, to include a broader audience; like families who mainly love otaku culture.
Jeremie highlights that his event places an emphasis on the motorsport aspect of anime, much like the go-to car themed series of the late 90s and early 2000s everyone, even the lightest of otaku fandoms should be aware of. Think of Initial D, Wangan Midnight, or for the real-old school otakus that’ll remember: Ex-Driver. These act as ways to combine both passions (otaku and motorsport culture), to ensure there is something for everyone; no matter what subculture they associate with more.
“I often feature motorsport anime-style art pieces and JDM drawings on our social media pages, since the classics like Initial D always comes to mind when you think of ‘cars’ and ‘anime’ together; everyone knows about this slice-of-life anime focused on Japanese car culture in some capacity, so its was a no-brainer.“
Even some of the made-for-event exclusive merch has been modeled after the classics: with event-exclusive stickers distributed at each event that are modeled after old SEGA Initial D arcade machine memory cards, along with some of the event OCs (original characters) dreamt up from another form of media most in the car scene connect over: something about being ‘furiously fast’ (rockets and tanks not included).
And there is no better way to represent the general atmosphere, than through the car that always makes an appearance: because its owned by the founder himself.. A seven-year strong Infiniti G35 sedan; also known as the ‘Bang Sedan’ that serves as the unofficial car mascot of Cars ‘N Anime. Even more when it perfectly represents both groups these events are aiming to target.
“It’s a nice medium because I made it to be a purpose-built machine for the street & track, with enough anime stickers to showcase that keeps onlookers entertained when I’m not going sideways.”
“It’s a nice medium because it happens to be a purpose-built machine for the street & the track, with enough anime stickers to showcase that keeps onlookers entertained when I’m not going sideways.” - a good summary of the energy these events aim to radiate, no matter what you're a fan of.
Touching on the subject of itasha vehicles (as all of the events we've been featuring do include them in some way), Cars N’ Anime definitely sees them as a great way to bring attention to the event. While itasha culture is a niche audience within car communities, and not everyone is supportive of the idea of decorating a car in this way, Jeremie agrees that they are a great bridge to bring in even the most casual observer to swing by.
“Sure, some may see it as too extreme, or itasha owners themselves aren't too serious when it comes to modifying their cars. But fact is: they never fail to put a smile on people’s faces - they always generate a reaction when people see them: especially young kids who likely have never seen anything like them before. In some ways, that is beneficial for us as event hosts: as itashas serve as an easy gateway for people who don’t necessarily call themselves full-on otakus, but can admire how it can really transform the look of a car.”
Compared to the other events that have already been featured here, while it does come natural with the itasha showcases, promoting or encouraging cosplays to join in isn’t as harshly enforced here. Yet even when the event doesn’t explicitly promote it, Jeremie mentions that cosplayers still come out in full to support and entertain the crowd. To him, its an unexpected surprise - and a treat for any would-be attendees stopping by to admire the cars.
And it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, that there's always a great number participating during Halloween and Christmas.
Looking ahead, Jeremie has already begun thinking of ways to expand Cars N' Anime into new areas, and possibly with the induction of some form of motorsport disciplines too, especially one of his specialities: competitive drifting. There are plans to host a 'drift-matsuri' [festival] under the event's name and establish Cars N' Anime within the motorsport scene - similar to how grassroots showcases like Racewars evolved from.
“I’m happy to provide somewhere for fans that brings them together and even encourages newcomers to the scene.”
Aiming to spark the development of similar events in this part of California, Jeremie intends for his meet to get the attention of like minded individuals and groups, to take initative - like he himself, and be encouraged to create their own take on otaku-car events. This will ideally build up San Diego’s roster for these type of events, so local enthusiasts don’t have to make the lengthy trip north towards Los Angeles/Orange County, just to get some car and weeb action.
And it isn't just San Diegoans that are showing their appreciation for his setup; with the California car and otaku scene spread far and wide, even the very people that inspired SD to bring the action they're known for closer to home, have been getting in the fun. "I didn't expect to gain fans outside of our hometown. I've had people who are willing to drive down here just for this event, make a daycation out of exploring San Diego whilst getting to see how we do things in this part. It definitely gives them a new environment to explore."
"I think the family friendly environment and perhaps the more laid back vibe of San Diego is what keeps visitors coming each time we setup an event!"
In the end, Jeremie is not too concerned as to where the future lies for Cars N’ Anime San Diego. He is still looking for further ways to grow the event, and continue ensuring there is a little piece for everyone to enjoy. Whether that be turning this into a touring car show or downsizing back to its humble roots as a parking lot park-n-chill pop-up market, the door is open to anything that comes by to make this San Diego exclusive better.
But above all, Jeremie is grateful for the numerous people he gotten to know through this. "I've become good friends with people from the multiple communities we aim to unite, especially those with cult followings from the anime/gaming crowds. Who would've thought I would be worthy of getting noticed by these types of people - all thanks to this event I put together a little over a year ago?"
“As Spike Spiegel put it, whatever happens, happens.”
Want to check out a Cars N' Anime event yourself? Follow their page for the latest updates.